As I was looking through SOFREP’s “Coalition SOF” articles, I noticed there weren’t any stories about Afghan SOF. Even if you think the phrase “Afghan SOF” is an oxymoron (which I think it is), there is still value in reporting our assessments and experiences working with them.

My experience with Afghan SOF involved training and operating with Commandos and their Special Forces.

If I were to draw comparisons to the US military, for ease of reference, I would compare the ANASF to our Special Forces and the Commandos to our Rangers. The ANASF are organized in small teams, with staffing identical to our ODAs. The Commandos are garrisoned by battalion- or Kandak- with three to four companies each. As USSOF in Afghanistan, teams assigned to conduct village stability ops (VSO) are often paired with an ANASF team, plus additional conventional units like ANA, AUP or the dreaded “green on blue” poster children: the ALP. Those USSOF teams not saddled with the burden of VSO, are typically partnered with a Kandak. These Commando teams are usually required to take  Afghan Commandos out on missions.

The Commandos (CDOs)

To the best of my knowledge, there are nine Commando Kandaks. I have experience with four Commando Kandaks and its my observation that the strength, efficiency and performance of these Kandaks vary greatly. I’ve operated with a Kandak that was capable of conducting their own successful unilateral patrols. And I’ve been exposed to others that were understaffed, combat ineffective and incapable of even conducting missions alongside their American counterparts.

Due to the tribal dynamic within Afghan culture, some of the Kandaks are staffed along ethnic lines. There will be companies segregated as Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, etc. I have even heard of entire Kandaks being manned along tribal lines. During many sessions of drinking chai and chain-smoking crappy cigarettes with my CDOs, I have gained insight into the leadership philosophy that is prevalent within the Afghan ranks: knowledge and experience are not spread loaded across platoons, companies and Kandaks; it is hoarded jealously.

This command philosophy comes across as completely assbackward to those of us within the US military, but in the Afghan military it can be SOP. I have witnessed this dynamic play out when I was working with the 4th Kandak. 4th Kandak had three fully staffed companies and were still building up their fourth. After 90 days of observing, advising and operating with them, it became painfully obvious that they had one capable company, one dysfunctional company and the other company you did not want anywhere near you.

During one of my many tea parties, I asked the CO of the most capable company why his men were so locked on but the other two companies were so ate up. This Company Commander was as close to trustworthy and reliable as it gets in Afghanistan, and he shared with me the command philosophy rampant in the Afghan military: “It looks better if you have one good company and two bad, instead of having three average companies.”

So, with the CDOs, it seems to be a craps shoot. If you’re lucky, you might get partnered with a decent Kandak. Or you might get sidelined with a worthless Kandak that proves to be a liability.